The Mithridatic And Civil Wars

There reigned at this time in Pontus, the northeastern State of Asia

Minor, bordered on the south by Cappadocia, on the east by Armenia, and

the north by the Euxine, a powerful prince, Mithridates VI., surnamed

Eupator, who traced an unbroken lineage to Darius, the son of the

Hystaspes, and also to the Seleucidae. He was a great eastern hero, whose

deeds excited the admiration of his age. He could, on foot, overtake the

swiftest deer; he accomplished journeys on horseback of one hundred and

twenty miles a day; he drove sixteen horses in hand at the chariot races;

he never missed his aim in hunting; he drank his boon companions under the

table; he had as many mistresses as Solomon; he was fond of music and

poetry; he collected precious works of art; he had philosophers and poets

in his train; he was the greatest jester and wit of his court. His

activity was boundless; he learned the antidotes for all poisons; he

administered justice in twenty-two languages; and yet he was coarse,

tyrannical, cruel, superstitious, and unscrupulous. Such was this

extraordinary man who led the great reaction of the Asiatics against the


The resources of this Oriental king were immense, since he bore

rule over the shores of the Euxine to the interior of Asia Minor. His

field for recruits to his armies stretched from the mouth of the Danube to

the Caspian Sea. Thracians, Scythians, Colchians, Iberians, crowded under

his banners. When he marched into Cappadocia, he had six hundred scythed

chariots, ten thousand horse, and eighty thousand foot. A series of

aggressions and conquests made this monarch the greatest and most

formidable Eastern foe the Romans ever encountered. The Romans, engrossed

with the war with the Cimbri and the insurrection of their Italian

subjects, allowed his empire to be silently aggrandized.

The Roman Senate, at last, disturbed and jealous, sent Lucius Sulla

to Cappadocia with a handful of troops to defend its interests. On his

return, Mithridates continued his aggressions, and formed an alliance with

his father-in-law, Tigranes, king of Armenia, but avoided a direct

encounter with the great Occidental power which had conquered the world.

Things continued for awhile between war and peace, but, at last, it was

evident that only war could prevent the aggrandizement of Mithridates, and

it was resolved upon by the Romans.

The king of Pontus made immense preparations to resist his powerful

enemies. He strengthened his alliance with Tigranes. He made overtures to

the Greek cities. He attempted to excite a revolt in Thrace, in Numidia,

and in Syria. He encouraged pirates on the Mediterranean. He organized a

foreign corps after the Roman fashion, and took the field with two hundred

and fifty thousand infantry and forty thousand cavalry--the largest army

seen since the Persian wars. He then occupied Asia Minor, and the Roman

generals retreated as he advanced. He made Ephesus his head-quarters, and

issued orders to all the governors dependent upon him to massacre, on the

same day, all Italians, free or enslaved--men, women, and children, found

in their cities. One hundred and fifty thousand were thus barbarously

slaughtered in one day. The States of Cappadocia, Sinope, Phrygia, and

Bithynia were organized as Pontic satrapies. The confiscation of the

property of the murdered Italians replenished his treasury, as well as the

contributions of Asia Minor. He not only occupied the Asiatic provinces of

the Romans, but meditated the invasion of Europe. Thrace and Macedonia

were occupied by his armies, and his fleet appeared in the AEgean Sea.

Delos, the emporium of Roman commerce, was taken, and twenty thousand

Italians massacred. Most of the small free States of Greece entered into

alliance with him--the Achaeans, Laconians, and Boeotians. So commanding was

his position, that an embassy of Italian insurgents invited him to land in


The position of the Roman government was critical. Asia Minor, Hellas, and

Macedonia were in the hands of Mithridates, while his fleet sailed without

a rival. The Italian insurrection was not subdued, and political parties

divided the capital.

At this crisis Sulla landed on the coast of Epirus, but with an

army of only thirty thousand men, and without a single vessel of war. He

landed with an empty military chest. But he was a second Alexander--the

greatest general that Rome had yet produced. He soon made himself master

of Greece, with the exception of the fortresses of Athens and the Piraeus,

into which the generals of Mithridates had thrown themselves. He

intrenched himself at Eleusis and Megara, from which he commanded Greece

and the Peloponnesus, and commenced the siege of Athena. This was attended

with great difficulties, and the city only fell, after a protracted

defense, when provisions were exhausted. The conqueror, after allowing his

soldiers to pillage the city, gave back her liberties, in honor of her

illustrious dead.

But a year was wasted, and without ships it was impossible for

Sulla to secure his communications. He sent one of his best officers,

Lucullus, to Alexandria, to raise a fleet, but the Egyptian court evaded

the request. To add to his embarrassments, the Roman general was without

money, although he had rifled the treasures which still remained in the

Grecian temples. Moreover, what was still more serious, a revolution at

Rome overturned his work, and he had been deposed, and his Asiatic command

given to M. Valerius Flaccus.

Sulla was unexpectedly relieved by the resolution of Mithridates to carry

on the offensive in Greece. Taxiles, one of the lieutenants of the Pontic

king, was sent to combat Sulla with an army of one hundred thousand

infantry and ten thousand cavalry.

Then was fought the battle of Chaeronea, B.C. 86, against the advice

of Archelaus, in which the Romans were the victors. But Sulla could not

reap the fruits of victory without a fleet, since the sea was covered with

Pontic ships. In the following year a second army was sent into Greece by

Mithridates, and the Romans and Asiatics met once more in the plain of the

Cephissus, near Orchomenus. The Romans were the victors, who speedily

cleared the European continent of its eastern invaders. At the end of the

third year of the war, Sulla took up his winter quarters in Thessaly, and

commenced to build ships.

Meanwhile a reaction against Mithridates took place in Asia Minor.

His rule was found to be more oppressive than that of the Romans. The

great mercantile cities of Smyrna, Colophon, Ephesus, and Sardis were in

revolt, and closed their gates against his governors. The Hellenic cities

of Asia Minor had hoped to gain civil independence and a remission of

taxes, and were disappointed. And those cities which were supposed to be

secretly in favor of the Romans were heavily fined. The Chians were

compelled to pay two thousand talents. Great cruelties were also added to

fines and confiscations. Lucullus, unable to obtain the help of an

Alexandrian fleet, was more fortunate in the Syrian ports, and soon was

able to commence offensive operations. Flaccus, too, had arrived with a

Roman army, but this incapable general was put to death by a mob-orator,

Fimbria, more able than he, who defeated a Pontic army at Miletopolis. The

situation of Mithridates then became perilous. Europe was lost; Asia Minor

was in rebellion; and Roman armies were pressing upon him.

He therefore negotiated for peace. Sulla required the restoration

of all the conquests he had made: Cappadocia, Paphlagonia, Galatia,

Bithynia, the Hellenic cities, the islands of the sea, and a contribution

of three thousand talents. These conditions were not accepted, and Sulla

proceeded to Asia, upon which Mithridates reluctantly acceded to his


Sulla then turned against Fimbria, who commanded the Roman army

sent to supplant him, which, as was to be expected, deserted to his

standard. Fimbria fled to Pergamus, and fell on his own sword. Sulla

intrusted the two legions which had been sent from Rome under Flaccus to

the command of his best officer, Murena, and turned his attention to

arrange the affairs of Asia. He levied contributions to the amount of

twenty thousand talents, reduced Mithridates to the rank of a client king,

richly compensated his soldiers, and embarked for Italy, leaving Lucullus

behind to collect the contributions.

Thus was the Mithridatic war ended by the genius of a Roman

general, who had no equal in Roman history, with the exception of Pompey

and Julius Caesar. He had distinguished himself in Africa, in Spain, in

Italy, and in Greece. He had defeated the barbarians of the West, the old

Italian foes of Rome, and the armies of the most powerful Oriental monarch

since the fall of Persia. He had triumphed over Roman factions, and

supplanted the great Marius himself. He was now to contend with one more

able foe, Lucius Cornelius Cinna, who represented the revolutionary forces

which had rallied under the Gracchi and Marius--the democratic elements of

Roman society.

When Sulla embarked for the Mithridatic war, Cinna, supported by a

majority of the College of Tribunes, concerted a reaction against the rule

which Sulla had re-established--the rule of the aristocracy. But Cinna, a

mere tool of the revolutionary party,--a man without ability,--was driven

out of the city by the aristocratic party, and outlawed, and L. Cornelia

Mesula was made consul in his stead. The outlaws fled to the camp before

Nola. The Campanian army, democratic and revolutionary, recognized Cinna

as the leader of the republic. Gaius Marius, then an exile in Numidia,

brought six thousand men, whom he had rallied to his standard, to the

disposal of the consul, and was placed by Cinna in supreme command at

Etruria. A storm gathered around the capitol. Cinna was overshadowed by

the greatness of that plebeian general who had defeated the Cimbrians, and

who was bent upon revenge for the mortification and insults he had

received from the Roman aristocracy. Famine and desertion soon made the

city indefensible, and Rome capitulated to an army of her own citizens.

Marius, now master of Rome, entered the city, and a reign of terror

commenced. The gates were closed, and the slaughter of the aristocratic

party commenced. The consul Octavius was the first victim, and with him

the most illustrious of his party. The executioners of Marius fulfilled

his orders, and his revenge was complete. He entered upon a new consulate,

execrated by all the leading citizens. But in the midst of his victories

he was seized with a burning fever, and died in agonies, at the age of

seventy, in the full possession of honor and power. Cinna succeeded him in

the consulship and Rome was under the government of a detested tyrant. For

four years his reign was absolute, and was a reign of terror, during which

the senators were struck down, as the French nobles were in the time of

Robespierre. Cinna, like Robespierre, reigned with the mightiest plenitude

of power, united with incapacity.

In this state of anarchy Sulla's wife and children escaped with

difficulty, and Sulla himself was deprived of his command against

Mithridates. But Cinna, B.C. 84, was killed in a mutiny, and the command

of the revolutionists devolved on Carbo. The situation of Sulla was

critical, even at the head of his veteran forces. In the spring of the

year following the death of Cinna, he landed in Brundusium, where he was

re-enforced by partisans and deserters. The Senate made advances to Sulla,

and many patricians joined his ranks, including Cneius Pompeius, then

twenty-three years of age.

Civil war was now inaugurated between Sulla and the revolutionary

party, at the head of which were now the consul Carbo and the younger

Marius. Carbo was charged with Upper Italy, while Marius guarded Rome at

the fortress of Praeneste. At Sacriportus Sulla defeated Marius, and

entered Rome. But the insurgent Italians united with the revolutionary

forces of Rome, and seventy thousand Samnites and Lucanians approached the

capital. At the Colline gate a battle was fought, in which Sulla was

victorious. This ended the Social war, and the subjugation of the

revolutionists soon followed.

Sulla was now made dictator, and the ten years of revolution and

insurrection were at an end in both West and East. The first use which

Sulla made of his absolute power was to outlaw all his enemies. Lists of

the proscribed were posted at Rome and in the Italian cities. It was a

fearful visitation. A second reign of terror took place, more fearful and

systematic than that of Marius. Four thousand seven hundred persons were

slaughtered, among whom were forty senators, and one thousand six hundred


The next year Sulla celebrated his magnificent triumph over

Mithridates, and was saluted by the name of Felix. The despotism at which

the Gracchi were accused of aiming was introduced by a military conqueror,

aided by the aristocracy.

Sulla then devoted himself to the reorganization of the State. He

conferred citizenship upon all the Italians but freedmen, and bestowed the

sequestered estates of those who had taken side against him or his

soldiers. The office of judices was restored to the Senate, and the

equites were deprived of their separate seats at festivals. The Senate was

restored to its ancient dignity and power, and three hundred new members

appointed. The number of praetors was increased to eight. The government

still rested on the basis of popular election, but was made more

aristocratic than before. The Comitia Centuriata was left in possession of

the nominal power of legislation, but it could only be exercised upon the

initiation of a decree of the Senate. The Comitia Tributa was stripped of

the powers by which it had so long controlled the Senate and the State.

Tribunes of the people were selected from the Senate. The College of

Pontiffs was no longer filled by popular election, but by the choice of

their own members. A new criminal code was made, and the several courts

were presided over by the praetors. Such, in substance, were the Cornelian

laws to restore the old powers of the aristocracy.

Having effected this labor, Sulla, in the plenitude of power,

retired into private life. He retired, not like Charles V., wearied of the

toils of war, and disgusted with the vanity of glory and fame, nor like

Washington, from lofty patriotic motives, but to bury himself in epicurean

pleasures. In the luxury of his Cumaenon villa he divided his time between

hunting and fishing, and the enjoyments of literature, until, worn out

with sensuality, he died in his sixtieth year, B.C. 78. A grand procession

of the Senate he had saved, the equites, the magistrates, the vestal

virgins, and his disbanded soldiers, bore his body to the funeral pyre,

and his ashes were deposited beside the tombs of the kings. A splendid

monument was raised to his memory, on which was inscribed his own epitaph,

that no friend ever did him a kindness, and no enemy a wrong, without

receiving a full requital.